‘Cagney & Lacey’ exec still policing its legacy

Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly in 'Cagney & Lacey'
Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly in ‘Cagney & Lacey’
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

After 25 years, producer Barney Rosenzweig is as passionate as ever about whipping up public support for his show “Cagney & Lacey,” the 1980s-era police series about two female partners that was once saved from cancellation by viewer protest.

Case in point: a Sept. 20 article in The Times about the debt owed by current female-led dramas to Lynda LaPlante’s “Prime Suspect.” A Rosenzweig-led campaign brought at least a dozen angry, articulate e-mails to the writer and her editors.

“The failure of your apparent understanding of the significance of ‘Cagney & Lacey’ is alarming,” wrote one, reflecting the general sentiment.

Particularly galling was a sentence in the article that described “Prime Suspect” as groundbreaking for placing a tough woman at the helm of her own unit and as “darker” than shows such as “Police Woman” and “Cagney & Lacey.”

“I was horrified by what I saw as revisionist history by a very important publication,” Rosenzweig said in an interview. His letter on his website,, used stronger language and urged fans to contact The Times. Some writers said they were also alerted on a Yahoo message site by his assistant. Some wrote before they had read the article.

Rosenzweig said he had been trying to persuade MGM to release DVDs of all six seasons of the show; only the first has come out so far. He said the show was the crowning achievement of his long career. “I used to be somebody,” he said. “More articles like this and I’m relegated to a dustbin.”

In 1983, before the widespread use of computers, he sparked a letter-writing campaign that resulted in CBS rescinding its cancellation of the show for a “lack of broad appeal.” At a time when there were only three major networks, the show reached 12.6 million households a week. It stayed on the air until 1988.

The trade paper Variety was similarly swamped with mail when it linked the current rise of women on television to “Prime Suspect,” said TV reporter Cynthia Littleton.

In some cases, fans feel a connection with the show because they helped save it from cancellation, and also because it was good, Littleton said. “It was consistently well written and it had not one but two fantastic female stars,” she said, referring to Sharon Gless, who played Chris Cagney (and who is married to Rosenzweig), and Tyne Daly, who played Mary Beth Lacey. The series did break ground in the way the partners struggled in a traditionally male-dominated field, tackled social issues and related to one another, she said.

Piper Charles, 54, a retired police officer in Charlotte, N.C., said she watched the original episodes, videotaped them and has been watching regularly ever since. “It’s almost like an addiction,” she said. “I watch them every day.”

A spokesperson for MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, which released the first season of “Cagney & Lacey” on DVD, said the company had not set a date for releasing more episodes.